In January 1943, Gene Krupa's 17-year-old band boy did something stupid. After receiving his draft notice, he decided that as a going-away present, he'd buy Krupa [pictured] a few joints. When he arrived at the theater in San Francisco where the Krupa band was playing, he handed Krupa his gift. The drummer placed the joints in the pocket of his overcoat and had the band boy take the coat up to his hotel room.
A short time later, San Francisco narcotics agents showed up at the theater with a search warrant. Coming up empty, they headed next for Krupa's hotel room. Krupa managed to call the band boy in his room, telling him to flush the joints down the toilet. But the band boy pocketed them. When the detectives arrived, they searched the band boy's pockets and threatened him with arrest unless he agreed to testify that Krupa had sent him on a pot run. The band boy agreed, and Krupa was arrested [pictured] and released a short time later until his trial.
In court in May, Krupa entered a guilty plea on possession and drew a 90-day sentence. He pled not guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor but was convicted on that charge as well. After some haggling, the judge sentenced the famed drummer to 90 days in the county jail. Krupa would remain behind bars for 84 days.
During Krupa's incarceration, trumpeter Roy Eldridge [pictured] ran the band. But as great as "Little Jazz" was, he didn't have Krupa's star power. Before long, the band broke up for lack of bookings. When Krupa was released in the fall, Benny Goodman hired him, and soon Krupa was back playing and leading bands.
Like many bands in early 1943, Krupa's was a patchwork of seasoned musicians and fresh-faced players. World War II and the draft had swept away large numbers of musicians, and Krupa's band was no exception. By the time clarinetist Buddy De Franco joined Krupa's band in late 1942, he had already won a national Tommy Dorsey Swing contest at age 14 and had appeared on the Saturday Night Swing Club, sharing the spotlight with Gene Krupa.
Discovered by Johnny "Scat" Davis, Buddy [pictured] began touring with the vocalist and trumpeter in 1939. Pianist Dodo Marmarosa joined Scat Davis in 1941, and soon Buddy and Marmarosa left to join Krupa's band. But after Krupa was jailed in mid-1943, Buddy and Marmarosa's future looked bleak. Their big break with a national band was fizzling with the headliner locked up.
Over the summer, the Krupa-less band performed in Philadelphia. After one of the engagements, Buddy and Marmarosa headed for the subway to ride back to their hotel. The decision nearly cost them their lives.
I spoke to Buddy on Monday:
"Across the platform on the other side were five sailors. They spotted us and thought we were Zoot Suiters because of our band uniforms. Just weeks earlier, at the end of May, there had been riots in L.A. between servicemen and kids in Zoot Suits. If you wore a Zoot Suit, you were considered a wise guy and fair game. [Photo of a Zoot Suit model in 1942 by Marie Hansen for Life]
"The next thing we knew the sailors came across the tracks, hopping the third rail, catching us by surprise. When they came up onto the platform, one guy said, 'Take those Zoot Suits off.'
"We tried to tell them we were in Gene Krupa's band. But before we could explain, they started to let us have it. Dodo got the worst of it. I got a fractured nose and ribs. Dodo got hit so hard he hit his head on the cement and was knocked unconscious.
"Fortunately trumpeter Joe Triscari and Roy Eldridge were walking on the platform just after the sailors took off. They along with some lady helped get us to the hospital. Dodo was in a coma for a day. When he got out of the hospital, Krupa's band was over and we joined Charlie Barnet's [pictured] band.
"Dodo was always a little off but he seemed different after that beating. The head injury didn't affect his playing, but I think it created psychological problems for him. And eventually I think it caught up with his playing, too. He held up well for a while. That was an awful night."
Buddy, Marmarosa and Krupa would all join Tommy Dorsey's band in 1944 and record together as part of the Gene Krupa Trio, a breakout group within the Dorsey orchestra. By August 1944, Krupa had started his own band. Buddy remained with Dorsey. And Marmarosa was with Artie Shaw's band, where he'd stay for more than a year, playing in both the orchestra and as a member of the famed 1945 Gramercy Five.
JazzWax tracks: To hear what Krupa's band sounded like in February 1943, with Buddy and Marmarosa, shortly after Krupa's arrest, listen to Gene Krupa and His Orchestra: 1939-43 Broadcasts Live! (Jazz Hour). You'll find the album as a download at iTunes or at Amazon here. You want the tracks listed as being recorded in the Panther Room of Chicago's Hotel Herman.
Buddy, Krupa and Marmarosa recorded three tracks as the Gene Krupa Trio in 1944. Two of the three—Liza and Hodge-Podge—are available on Gene Krupa: V-Disc as downloads at iTunes or at Amazon here. Or you'll find them on Gene Krupa and His Orchestra: 1941-1945 (Classics) here.